Monday, January 27, 2014

Gamification IS Project Based Learning!


It hit me. As many of my ideas do, I am simply driving, eating, or doing something other than concentrating on teaching when an idea so profound, so intriguing knocks me upside the head.

I got it! Gamification IS Project Based Learning. In fact, it may be the most powerful kind.  Let me explain.

In my experience with gamification, I have a storyline. For instance, for my 6th grade class this semester, students are a part of a political race in the land of Cyberium, and their work in class will have them compete for leadership.  The language of the class tasks has been changed to match the theme, and spreadsheets have been established to track their efforts in the various areas. There will be a wide variety of concepts and activities covered.  But it all starts with our Entry Event, a key tenet of Project Based Learning.

The other side of this that is big about Project Based Learning is authenticity. It isn't the same old, same old, and it has real relevance to our students' lives. In my humble opinion, what could have more relevance than gaming to our students today? Most of them play games regularly and naturally connect to them and think about them.  As educators, I believe we get so caught up in our own beliefs about what students need we forget to actually ask and observe students to see what they need. Games are authentic - to our students.

This is what I have so far, but I've continued to ponder this subject. I'm definitely going to see how closely I can match up my musings of Gamification being Project Based Learning with the Buck Institute's own 8-steps for PBL.  However, my thoughts and observations so far are really exciting.

Is it perfect? No. Is it for everyone? Maybe not. But my money is on doing what it takes to promote a love of learning and mastery with my students in a way that has them feeling like they are working towards something greater than themselves.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Educators - Please Embody the Spirit of Open Source

I am eternally grateful to the teacher who preceded me at my current position. She was incredibly organized, meticulous, and helpful in the transition. Anything she had every done was fair game, and she was always available for ideas.

When I moved to the high school, I was given the "keys" to a moodle course where certain classes I would be taking over (just a week before school would start) were housed.  I was also fortunate enough to be shared on a wiki for a different class.

So why do I still hear stories of teachers not sharing their stuff?

Why is there such a site as Teachers Pay Teachers? After all, it seems wrong to me that to make a few extra bucks after the backs of people in the very same boat as you.

Aren't we all in this together? The spirit of Ubuntu - that I am successful because we are successful.

Isn't it all about the kids? I know many would argue that we aren't working slaves - but this isn't a discussion about salary or benefits or working conditions.

I understand the hard work that goes into creating a really cool project. After all, I've done it myself. But I could never imagine making someone pay for what I created. 

I think through every single day the tools I use "for free" - Google Apps, Chrome, Screenr, Screencast-o-matic, Facebook, and Twitter just to name a few.  Yes, are they taking something from me - of course. But I don't see it being that much different than just giving attribution. Think of great collaborative efforts like Wikipedia or Linux. People from all over the world gave their time freely to create those things, and continue to this day.

We really need to be open source with education. Allowing our work to be mixed, remixed, nixed, used, reused, and globally accessible is far more rewarding than a few bucks from TeachersPayTeachers. After all, don't we want our students to be able to share their work with the world?  Let us set a good example for them, all the while creating a better education for them. I might have something good, you might have something good. Let's share, exchange, and improve the things we both do to make the lives of our students even better.

After all, it is the "Open Source and Free for All" philosophy that is the embodiment of what public education should be.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Response to WaPo Editorial - "I would love to teach but..."

If you haven't read the editorial, you can find it here.

It is a sentiment many teachers, if not all have experience. Pressure from admin. Pressure from parents. Pressure from standards and personalization getting in the way of all the things we love most about teaching. My mom actually shared the article with me, as well as a friend of mine Jordan Hohm who teaches in North Carolina. Here was my response to here on Facebook:

Well it is true really - that is the trend. I'm fortunate in a way that I'm in a non-core area. However, even if I was, I would refuse to teach to the test and do things the way I could get the most engagement and learning in my classes. I hate grades as a whole and allow students as many redos as they want to improve their grade -that is how learning happens. I can't force them to redo, but many times I won't even give them any grade if I believe they can do better. I create or borrow most of what I do, but honestly, most of our class time has students investigating, researching, and creating, not listening to me. They have a majority of the control over their learning.

The emphasis should never be on grades - all they should be is communication at how close to mastery students are to a concept. There are a lot of positive trends in this area, and thankfully I'm in a district with forward thinking leaders for the most part that are promoting these new trends in grading and instruction that start to pull away from the standardization of things. Sadly, there is still a lot of pressure from many areas for teachers to be bogged down by matching up to all the Common Core standards that they don't feel the freedom to integrate technology or learn how to flip, or seek out global learning opportunities for their students, or personalize the learning and let students direct the learning environment.

The worst part is most of the stuff kids learn in school DOESN'T MATTER and they will forget it! We all do! We need to focus on developing more long lasting learning skills because if they have those they can learn anything at any time. We need to create experiences so students WANT to be at school, keeping them away from the perils of society that they get dragged into when they are bored and labeled as "failing". Of course, I'm still young in only my third year, but if I didn't have this passion, I couldn't teach, and I feel sorry for those that work in districts that suck their passion away. That is why Twitter and Google+ is so powerful - I can connect with like minded people, share, discuss. Even when I have a bad day or feel overwhelmed, there are other educators, principals, admins who will offer their support and advice.

Teaching is awesome, and couldn't imagine doing anything else. If anybody wants to complain about my time off, I'll trade them the extra hours outside of school, the evaluation process, the PDP process, the $40,000 of education to work in a career with very few and small raises and very few promotion opportunities, unless you want to throw $15,000 into a masters. Ultimately, you can't listen to those people because they have their own battle and can't possibly understand what it is to be a teacher. I know I love my career and that's that. Ramble off.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Putting the "Why" in Technology - an #edcamphome 2.0 Reflection

This is what it is all about. If you haven't heard technology mentioned a million times in the last few years, you've been under a rock. I am sure many struggle with why it is so important, especially if what they are doing is working. I myself have often wondered what strategy I might take to help get them on board. Well, simply put, my experience with #edcamphome 2.0 would be a great case study on why technology can be so amazing in education.

1.  Learning by doing:  I know this isn't something that requires technology, but technology gives far more opportunities for students to create and learn.  However, I believe many times we limit students to our own imaginations and access to technology can allow students to do things we could never anticipate. Today, that is what happened for us as adults. The organizers did a fabulous job running the show. It was amazing to see just how much they have refined the process since inventing this crazy idea last summer. There were also a lot of participants who were running GHO's or joining GHOs for the first time, or doing an edcamp style for the best time. There is no better way many times than to learn by just doing it, making mistakes, and learning.

2.  Global audience:  In one of the sessions I was in today, we had Wisconsin, North Carolina, Hawaii, and China represented.  This just simply isn't possible without technology to make these types of connections.  We were all able to learn from each other and expand our minds on things we may never have even considered before. Sometimes the resources and the support we need aren't available in the immediate area - but access to technology can get those to us.  We need to blow the lid off of schools and get our students and teachers collaborating around the country and world.

3.  Digital Citizenship:  I messed up a few times today as a moderator, and sometimes the GHO wasn't allowing the invites for the sessions to go through.  However, everybody I met with and spoke to were amazingly kind, patient, and just appreciative for the opportunity to discuss ideas.  This is an incredible model for what students should strive for in online participation (as well as in person!).  It starts with us modeling so we can show students how it should work, and give them ample opportunities to work on their skills. Edcamphome was a perfect representation of how a diverse group of people with no prior connections can communicate and collaborate effectively to reach a goal.

There were many other takeaways. Asynchronous learning. Roles.  Reflection. All things that happen naturally for people who consistently use and try and improve on including technology in our teaching.

Lastly, I would like to say the biggest takeaway is how important technology is for opening opportunities. If you weren't involved on social media, chances are that you would never even know an edcampHome existed, or many other professional development opportunities for that matter. Our students deserve to know what is out there so they can lead the best lives they possible can.  Technology helps make that happen. Edcamphome showed that to me today.